Thursday, March 7, 2019

'Gotham' Recap: "Nothing's Shocking" (5x08)

Welcome back to another recap of Gotham—or, as I like to call it, a TV show combined with a Russian nesting doll that contains a never-ending stream of Batman villains.

This week's episode, "Nothing's Shocking," revolves around three plots: a killer targeting ex-cops from the GCPD, Bruce and Alfred's search for missing people in the sewers, and Penguin's run-in with an old friend and a new foe.

So, without further ado, let's get started.

Plot A: Facing the Past

The episode begins in the Sirens' Club. Two old men enter, and Barbara tells them that if they want to keep coming to her bar, they need better intel. They tell her that they've heard about a black market with heating oil, and she says it's enough for them to get one drink to share before they clear out.

The guys go to the bar. As they wait for their order, another man walks up to them. It's Dix, an ex-cop and Bullock's former partner who we saw once in season 1 ("Spirit of the Goat").

Dix is noticeably not in a wheelchair. He tells the two men that he's been looking for them and asks if they ever think about their past and what they did to "the girl."

Barbara notices Dix and is annoyed that another man came into her club unannounced. She walks over to confront him, but before she reaches him, Dix stabs the other two men and leaves.

A little bit later, Gordon and Bullock arrive at Sirens. Barbara explains that she wouldn't normally call them about a dead body but says that, in this case, she did it as a courtesy. Bullock examines the bodies and identifies them as Boggs and Lewis, two ex-cops that were on the GCPD before Gordon joined.

Barbara explains what happened and notes that the bartender heard one of the men call the killer (who also looked like an old cop) something like "mix or hicks." Gordon remembers Dix, Bullock's old partner, but Bullock says that Dix wouldn't have killed Boggs and Lewis, and even if he had, he wouldn't be able to make a quick getaway in his wheelchair (which he's been in for 15 years). Barbara replies that the killer wasn't in a wheelchair.

Gordon asks if Dix evacuated. Bullock replies that he heard something about Dix moving into an apartment about a year ago. He says that Dix can't be the killer. Gordon replies that he understands how Bullock feels but they should still follow up on the lead and see if he knows anything. Bullock walks out.

Gordon then asks Barbara how things are going work with her pregnancy and says that he's going to be part of the kid's life. He tells her that reunification will happen and that she should think about who she wants to be when it does. He says that Barbara can have a fresh start, but she replies that she likes who she already is.

Let's be real: I would also feel satisfied with myself if I was the owner of a successful business and had a league of assassins at my beck and call.

A little later on, Gordon and Bullock go to Dix's apartment. Before they go in, Bullock admits to Gordon that he feels bad for not checking in with Dix earlier, since the ex-cop doesn't have a lot of friends or family.

Bullock then knocks on the door. He's met by a blast from a bazooka that blows a hole in the door but leaves Bullock and Gordon unscathed, since they got out of the way in time. Once Dix realizes that Bullock is on the other side of the door, however, he lets them in and apologizes.

Dix (who's in a wheelchair) says that you can't be too careful in Gotham these days.

He says that he wasn't expecting Bullock, since he'd assumed the cop had forgotten about him.

As Bullock talks with Dix, Gordon notices a suitcase on a nearby bed. He asks if Dix is planning a trip, and Dix replies that he likes to keep a bag packed just in case. Gordon asks where he was the previous night. Dix says that he was in his apartment. When Gordon asks if anyone can back up that claim, Dix asks if Gordon thinks he killed Boggs and Lewis (though it's unclear how Dix would've heard about their deaths).

Dix tells Gordon that if he would do anything to get out of his wheelchair, even confess to Gordon on the spot, but that doesn't change the fact that he can't. Gordon points out that Dix used to be a detective and asks what he would assume if he was on the other side of the case. Dix replies that he'd either assume he (Dix) had done it or that he (Dix) is the next target.

Gordon asks what connection Dix would have to Boggs and Lewis that would make him assume he's the next victim in the killer's vendetta. Bullock silently shakes his head at Dix, telling his old partner not to say the truth. Dix replies that he merely worked with the other two cops.

Bullock adds that the four of them worked on a case together, back when Bullock was a rookie and before he and Dix were partners. He tells Gordon that it was an "open-and-shut case" about a woman who killed her husband—before adding that, regardless of his connection to them, Dix didn't kill Boggs and Lewis. Gordon seems hesitant to assume that, given Barbara's account of the scene and the fact that Dix is leaving town.

Suddenly, someone knocks on the apartment door. They open it, only to see another Dix staring back at them and on his feet. Bullock manages to pull a realistic, bloodied mask off of the fake-Dix's face in a fight before the intruder runs off.

Back at the GCPD, Gordon says that the mask is made out of human skin. Harper then hands him a file on Victoria Cartwright. Gordon says that he had her cross-reference every case Boggs, Lewis, Bullock and Dix worked with any cases involving a woman who killed her husband.

Bullock tells Gordon that Victoria Cartwright was "a banker who led a boring life." Dix says she went crazy and then killed her husband. Gordon points out that Victoria was only convicted on the statement of her daughter, Jane, and not any actual physical evidence. Gordon adds that Jane would be about 27 and asks where she is.

Bullock says that it doesn't matter; what matters is finding the killer. He points out that the killer could switch faces, like Basil from Indian Hill (aka Clayface), but Gordon seems convinced that this isn't the same person. He asks if they have an address for Jane. Harper says that they don't, but the family's old house is in the green zone. Gordon decides to go with Harper and another cop but tells Bullock to stay at the GCPD with Dix.

Once Jim leaves, Dix remarks that Boggs and Lewis must've been complete idiots to think it was Dix in the club. Bullock wonders if "the Cartwright girl" said something to someone. Dix isn't sure but says that the Cartwright girl is dead. A friend of his, who worked at Arkham, said she was an inmate who died a few years ago, so she can't be the killer.

Elsewhere, Gordon and co. enter the old Cartwright house. The place is messy and covered in dust webs, causing Harper to remark that it was likely abandoned long before the bridges blew. Gordon notices a framed family picture with the father's face scratched out.

One cop goes to search the attic while Gordon and Harper take the first floor. He finds a pile of bloody skin masks, but before he can investigate further, a woman in a white (non-skin) mask knocks him out from behind. She touches his face, and her skin begins to glow and transform. Seconds later, she looks identical to the cop.

Downstairs, Harper finds food, which means that someone must be still living in the house. She and Gordon then go upstairs and see the pile of masks. The fake-cop tells them that no one is in the house and that everything is fine, but Gordon spots the real cop lying on the ground and tackles the fake cop. He pulls the mask off, and the woman's face and hair reemerge. She quickly covers her face with her hands and begs him not to look at her.

They take the woman back to the GCPD, and Gordon puts her in the interrogation room while Bullock watches from behind the two-way glass. Gordon attempts to remove her mask, but she flinches and moves away from him. Gordon tells her that she can only keep the mask if she tells them what's going on.

Gordon asks who the woman is. She replies that she's "nobody." He then asks if she's Jane Cartwright. He points out that this mystery woman was in Jane's old home and is the right age. He asks what happened to the woman. When she replies, "nothing," he asks what happened to Jane.

The woman tells him that Jane was taken from Arkham, down into Indian Hill, where Hugo Strange experimented on her. She says that Strange as obsessed with creating a way for humans, like chameleons, to change their skin and outward appearance.

And now that I think about it, this woman right. Hugo Strange is obsessed with imitation. He created not only Clayface but Bruce's clone and possibly others—Isabella, for instance, may have been a clone of Kristin Kringle, though we'll likely never know. It's interesting that so many of his test subjects were designed to mimic other people. I wonder if that was his idea, or if the Court of Owls was planning to replace multiple people, not just Bruce, with duplicates who would serve the Court.

But I digress. The woman says that Strange made it so that Jane could change her entire body with a single touch and that after she's done being someone, she sheds their skin (hence the bloody masks). She then reminds Gordon that she's already touched him.

"We can help you, Cartwright," he says. But the woman insists that Jane Cartwright died in Arkham; now she's Jane Doe. Gordon asks why Jane killed the cops, and she replies that he should ask Bullock.

After Gordon leaves the interrogation room and Bullock steps out of the hallway, Jane stretches and manipulates one of her hands so that it slips out of the cuff.

A little bit later, Bullock and Dix meet in the locker room. Bullock says that they needed somewhere quiet to talk because the two of them "did a bad thing." Dix refutes this, saying that Victoria Cartwright was guilty and got what she deserved. Bullock replies that Dix didn't get what he deserved and says that he made Jane into a murderer.

"I'm gonna make sure you never do that again," Bullock says, as he begins to choke Dix.

Meanwhile, Barbara enters the GCPD to talk to Gordon. She tells him that the bartender heard the killer say something before he stabbed Boggs and Lewis—"The kid's guilty too." Barbara says that she's been thinking about what Gordon said about her being a known criminal and adds that she heard about Eduardo's list of people that he was supposed to arrest and/or execute. She asks if the government will arrest her if and when they step in to fix Gotham.

Gordon says that he's not sure, but Barbara points out that it would work out for him if she had to go to jail and he got to keep the baby. He says that he doesn't want that to happen. Barbara, in turns, asks if that's a promise on his part—and if she goes straight from now on, will she get to stay out of jail?

Before Gordon can answer her, Bullock walks in. Gordon asks where he took Dix, but Bullock replies that he didn't take Dix anywhere. They then search the GCPD and find Dix's body in the locker room. Gordon realizes that Jane must've disguised herself as Harvey and killed him.

With that in mind, Gordon puts the GCPD on lockdown, though Harper anxiously points out that Jane could look like anyone now. Suddenly, Barbara re-enters, wearing the same coat as earlier. She says that she's been attacked and sounds a little more hysterical than usual. Gordon asks how we know that she's the real Barbara.

Suddenly, another Barbara (Barbara 2) walks in. Barbara 1 says to shoot Barbara 2, but Barbara 2 tells them that she's the real one.

Gordon asks the two Barbaras to tell him where he and Barbara first met. Unable to give the real answer, Barbara 1 (aka Jane) holds Barbara 2 at gunpoint. Jane says that if anyone tries to follow her out, she'll shoot Barbara. Barbara says that they should just shoot Jane, but Gordon says they can't risk hitting her.

Barbara, however, manages to escape from Jane's grip with only a minor graze from a bullet. Jane then runs away.

Bullock finds Jane, some time later, back in her old house. He says that he's sorry, that it was his job to protect her and he let her down. Jane says that Bullock and his friends made her into a murderer and have to face the consequences of what they did.

As they draw guns on each other, Jane says that he might as well shoot her, since he killed Jane years ago anyway. Bullock puts his gun down and asks to see her real face. Jane replies that she's a monster now; Strange destroyed her face and Bullock destroyed her soul. He asks a second time.

Jane then removes her white mask to reveal . . . an ordinary face, though she seems to think it was deformed or ruined in Arkham.

Bullock tells her that they can work things out, but Jane replies that the only way this confrontation can end is with one of them dead. She raises her gun to shoot him, but he draws his and kills her first. Afterward his hands shake, and it's clear that he's been traumatized by the experience.

After returning to the GCPD, Bullock tells Gordon the truth: Victoria Cartwright killed her husband, confessed, and later recanted. Bullock wanted to make detective, so he pressed Jane to make a statement. Bullock later found out that the husband had beaten both Victoria and Jane. He says that he knew something was wrong about the situation, but he listened to the others and kept quiet to close the case. After a while, he stopped feeling guilty, and he became more callous.

But once Bullock met Gordon, he began to change. Despite that, however, he can't change the past or what happened to Jane. Gordon asks if Bullock's asking for forgiveness and says he can't give it. Bullock replies that he just wanted Gordon to know the truth.

Plot B: Don't You Know That You're Toxic?

At the clinic in the Green Zone, Alfred and Bruce meet with a badly wounded woman. Alfred asks her to repeat her story for Bruce. The woman explains that she lives in a crowded shelter with close-knit people who have come together since the river was poisoned by Jeremiah.

She then says that, a few weeks ago, she heard rumors about something living underneath the building where it connects to the sewers. Not long after, people started to go missing, so she and her husband, Hank, went to look for them. That's when something attacked them in the darkness. The woman hit her head and was knocked unconscious. When she woke up, Hank was gone, and she was alone. The woman begs them to find Hank, and Bruce promises that he and Alfred will do whatever they can.

He and Alfred then step out in the hallway to talk. Bruce thinks that they should call Gordon.

(Batman? Calling the police? It's more like you than think, apparently.)

Alfred says that the GCPD are stretched thin already. Bruce replies out that they don't even know what the threat is, but Alfred points out that Hank is in danger and that the woman came to them for help. He asks what Bruce thinks they should do, and Bruce admits that they should go find Hank.

A little later, Bruce and Alfred explore the basements that run along the sewers. Bruce notes that toxic chemicals in the river have the potential to cause a lot of damage to the city, and Alfred tells him not to touch anything.

As they walk on, they find a detached, bloody arm on the ground. Alfred spots bite marks on it and says that they don't look human. The two of them then spot a bloody trail from where the supposed creature must have dragged its victim away.

They follow the trail and begin to hear growling in the sewers. Just as the battery on Bruce's flashlight starts to die, someone tackles the two of them. It's a hysterical man who says someone ("he") is coming to kill him and that he just barely escaped from his attacker.

This man is Hank. Alfred asks if there's anyone else alive in the sewers, but Hank says that all the other victims are dead.

Suddenly, they begin to hear growling again and a large, somewhat deformed, and rabid man knocks Bruce down and drags Hank away. Bruce and Alfred chase after him.

Bruce deduces that the toxins must have damaged the wild man's body and driven him mad. He and Alfred fight the wild man. Just as their opponent gets the upper hand over Alfred, Bruce begins to throw blades at his back. Once the wild man is distracted by the pain, Alfred begins to beat him relentlessly. Bruce actually has to pull Alfred off and tell him to stop, which is a reversal of how things usually go with these two.

Back at the clinic, Hank reunites with his wife. Bruce tells Alfred that, according to one of the nurses, the man who attacked them suffered brain damage due to the toxic chemicals in the river—damage that is likely irreparable. Alfred regrets that they weren't able to save the other victims, and Bruce says they were reckless not to go to Gordon from the beginning.

Alfred argues that they "took decisive action" and saved Hank. He tells Bruce that Gotham's citizens are suffering and needs a protector. Bruce agrees but tells Alfred that "there are better ways to find absolution." He says that Alfred has been blaming himself for what happened to Wayne Manor when it wasn't his fault that their home was destroyed.

Alfred replies that he feels responsible for its destruction because he wasn't strong enough to fight off Mad Hatter or Jeremiah. He then says that he's worried that Bruce lost his "last tie to the past" when the manor blew. And in a way, he's right. Wayne Manor was the last physical reminder of what Bruce's life was like back before his parents died, before he began the path to becoming Batman. The house was a symbol of who Bruce used to be, and it's sad to see it all go up in smoke.

"I must never be that weak again," Alfred says.

"Part of being a family is that we can be strong for each other," Bruce replies.

Plot C: I'm Not the Dummy, You Are.

Elsewhere, the Riddler works with tools and looks over the submarine schematics. Suddenly, a line of bells goes off, tripped by someone's entrance into the room. Riddler turns and raises a gun, only to see that the "intruder" is Penguin. He says that Penguin should've been back hours ago. Penguin replies that he meant to come back sooner, but he had to get the lunch—and, on the way, he hired Dale (a large man standing next to him).

Riddler angrily tells Penguin that their escape plan is supposed to be secret. Penguin replies that Dale is not only trustworthy but also mute. Riddler says that he put up the "alarm system" to alert them of intruders, but Penguin says that he thought they needed muscle.

"At least you're doing something," Riddler mutters.

Penguin then asks how the Riddler's work on the submarine ("the S.S. Gertrude") is going. The Riddler replies that it's fine, but says that the sonar is more complicated than he'd previously thought. Penguin says that he's sure Riddler will figure it out. Riddler replies that of course he'll figure it out, just like he did with every other step in building the submarine, because he's the only one putting in any work.

Penguin says that he already did his share of the work when he stole everything in Gotham, but Riddler points out that Penguin's thieves did the actual stealing and that he killed them afterward.

Suddenly, someone trips the alarm bells. It's a very-much-alive Mr. Penn, who enters with a suitcase in his hand. Penguin is initially happy and shocked to see him, before switching to anger that Penn has only just now returned to him after being presumed dead for a month or so.

Penn says he wanted to return to Penguin but that someone wouldn't let him. He then opens his suitcase to reveal a manakin dressed like a gangster and sets it on his shoulder. He introduces the dummy as "Mr. Scarface."

Penguin is incredulous and doesn't believe that Scarface could make Penn do anything. Penn replies that Scarface is "persuasive" and made Penn tell him about Penguin's treasure. Penguin laughs and says that Penn needs to rest and see a psychiatrist. He adds that once Penn has done both of those things, they can talk about him resuming his position (though he won't get any pay for the time he was gone).

As soon as Penguin turns his back on Penn, Scarface yells at him to shut up (though, if you look closely in this episode, you can see Penn's mouth moving slightly). He asks if Penguin is the punk "who thinks he's in charge." Penn confirms this. Riddler tells Penguin to make Penn leave, but Scarface says that no one's going anywhere and orders Penn to show Penguin that he's serious. Penn responds by pulling out a gun and shooting Dale.

Scarface orders Penguin and Riddler to hand over their guns, and they do, albeit reluctantly. Penguin asks what happened to Penn after Haven was destroyed. Penn replies that after he was shot, he woke up alone in the GCPD morgue, patched his wounds, and crawled out. He then hid in an abandoned magic shop where Scarface found him.

Scarface interjects that that was when Penn told him all about how Penguin used him and treated him poorly. Penguin says that's not true, but Riddler replies, "That is what you do."

Penguin asks what Penn wants. Penn replies that he doesn't want anything, but Scarface wants the treasure and to "be the boss." Penguin asks why he should give Scarface the key to his treasure room if he's probably just going to kill Penguin afterward. He then groans in frustration, realizing that he's talking to a doll.

Riddler says that Penguin deserves this comeuppance.

"You're opportunistic," he says, "your loyalty is shaky at best, and you will hurt anyone, anyone, to get what you want." Penguin, however, replies that the Riddler might as well be the pot calling the kettle black.

Riddler then asks Scarface what he'll do after he gets the treasure and becomes the boss. He says that people will come after Scarface and try to take his wealth and power. He then adds that Scarface wouldn't have to fight anyone off if he had a way to get off the island and begins to tell him about the submarine.

A little bit later, Riddler and Penguin bicker while Penn and Scarface discuss Riddler's suggestion. Penguin is furious that Riddler would tell Scarface about the sub and "play along with his psychosis." Riddler replies that Scarface was about to kill Penguin and that telling him about the sub bought time. He adds that he has an idea and tells Penguin to wait for his signal.

Scarface tells the two of them to shut up. Penn says that they've decided that the sub is a good plan. Scarface, however, adds that while they need the Riddler to build it, they don't need Penguin (which means that he's dead meat).

Penn raises his gun, all the while apologizing to Penguin. Penguin replies that while Scarface accused him of manipulating and using Penn, Penguin never asked him to kill anyone. He tells Penn to think of everything they've been through, from the fight against Sofia Falcone to starving after the bridges blew. Scarface replies that Penn starved while Penguin and his dog ate steak (which is true).

Penguin admits that he hasn't been a good friend to Penn and anyone else.

"It's why I'm alone," he says.

Penguin then adds that in spite of this, he saw Penn for who he was and valued that person, which must be worth something. Scarface replies that Penguin is a liar and a thief, and Penn agrees that all Penguin does is take from people without giving back. He says that Penguin worked him too hard and made Penn his puppet.

Riddler then uses his machinery to produce a loud sonar ping, which distracts Penn long enough for Penguin to lunge at him. Penn and Scarface fight back, but Penguin manages to shoot Scarface down. Penn then thanks Penguin for freeing him, and Penguin seems happy to have the old Penn back. However, before he can rejoice, the Riddler shoots Penn in the head, seemingly killing him for good this time.

Penguin asks why the Riddler would do that when the dummy was the real threat. The Riddler replies that he accepts Penguin for he is and vice versa.

"And, as friends, I think we can both agree that that lunatic had to be stopped," Riddler says.

Penguin laughs and replies, "Perhaps, Edward, we really are meant for each other." The Riddler joins him in laughing.

The Verdict

Plot A: I'm not sure how to feel about Plot A. On the one hand, it was a breather episode focusing on Harvey's past, and not much of it (save the parts with Barbara) will probably be important in later episodes. On the other hand, it was an emotional and intense episode that delved into Bullock's past, reminded us of the mistakes he's made, and introduced a tragic villain (albeit one who died early and probably won't return).

In general, most of the "twists" with Jane felt predictable, and this part of the episode wasn't engaging. I know it was probably supposed to be a break from the weightier episodes with Eduardo and Jeremiah, but it still felt like a waste of time to focus on a one-off villain. And the episode didn't tell us anything about Bullock we don't already know. We know he used to be immoral, we know he used to be corrupt, we know he's changed since he and Gordon became partners.

So I'd probably give this plot 2 stars out of 5.

Plot B: Not much to report on this plot, honestly. I was kind of hoping that it was going to be Man-Bat killing people in the sewers and that Bruce would have a moment where he realizes how much he really hates bats.

As it is, Plot B mainly felt like filler. It's nice to see Bruce trying to help people, but I'm ready for him to put on a mask and beat up big criminals. Also, in a 12-episode season, it doesn't really sense to waste time on a plot the revolves around Bruce saving some unimportant minor characters who we'll probably never see again. It's dead weight, and it's the weakest part of the episode.

Plot C: Plot C is interesting in that it shouldn't really work as well as it does. It shouldn't work for Gotham to introduce its version of the Batman villain Ventriloquist halfway through its final season only to kill him off in the same episode before he can accomplish anything.

It shouldn't work. And yet, it does. It works for few reasons:

  1. This is Gotham. In a show with super-powered criminals, mystic cults, mind control chips and trippy hallucinatory sequences, having the Ventriloquist show up is hardly the weirdest thing to happen in five seasons. It fits the wacky, surreal tone the show has built up. By the way, if you want to learn more about Mr. Penn, Scarface, and Gotham's fifth season, you can click here to listen to a podcast interview with Andrew Sellon (the actor for Penn).
  2. This is Gotham's final season and therefore the writers' last hurrah. This is their final chance to introduce new villains and develop the ones that they already have. It's possible that they had a slower burn planned for Penn, but the 12-episode structure forced them to lessen his role in season 5. As it is, I enjoy seeing the character brought to life in live-action.
  3. The plot itself isn't about Penn or Scarface: it's about Penguin and Riddler's partnership. It's about how they come to terms with how they can still work together after being enemies for so long. It's about Penguin apologizing for his manipulative and selfish behavior and Riddler forgiving him. It's about the two characters coming to an understanding of who the other is. It's about returning the friendly yet argumentative banter of an odd friendship that started three seasons ago.

That's what it comes down to, for me: I care about Riddler and Penguin's friendship, and it's more important to me than Bullock's shady past or Bruce and Alfred searching for a man in the sewers. That's why Plot C was my favorite part of the episode.

Overall, I'd probably give the episode a 6 or 7 out of 10. I agree that viewers probably needed a break from the more intense Eduardo and Jeremiah-centric episodes, but a breather episode doesn't need to be as irrelevant to the rest of the season as this one felt.

(Side note: if you want an example of a good breather episode, take a look at Daredevil's "Nelson v. Murdock." It sidelines the action sequences and main plot to focus on the previously-unknown past between Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson while also exploring the new tension and distrust in their friendship. "Nelson v. Murdock" is a good example of how to give the audience a rest from the action while still exploring emotional aspects of characters that will have an impact on the rest of the season.)

Come back next week for a recap of episode 5x09, "The Trial of James Gordon." Until then, have a good week, and try to stay out of abandoned magic shops.


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